In 2015 I attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. One of the breakout sessions I attended was with Archbishop Michael Miller who had previously been Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. His session was titled “The School of the Heart: Parents as Primary Catechists.” Parents are primarily responsible for evangelising and catechising their children and leading them to a personal relationship with God. At the end of his session he provided parents with 10 tips for catechising at home.
- Be present with your children, waste time with them, real time not virtual time.
- Be joyful witnesses of the Gospel.
- Know your stuff. Use the Catechism
- Stick to the core message. Jesus Christ loves you and gave His life to save you.
- Pray with your children. Teach them how to pray and how to put all their joys, sorrows and anxieties before God.
- Go to Sunday Mass TOGETHER, as a family. Sunday should be planned around Mass. Let them see you together for the sacraments including reconciliation.
- Read the Bible together. Even short verses. The Gospel is like good bread that nourishes the heart.
- Sacramentalise your home. Let them see icons, candles statues, holy water, rosaries (in our case also incense). Beauty has its home in God. Accessorise God.
- Share experiences of faith with your children. Find opportunities and gateways to speak with them.
- Form the moral conscience of your children in truth and freedom.
Below I have expanded on some of these and provided 7 ideas adapting these tips for Catholic schools.
- Be present with students, make it real time not virtual time.
Technology can revolutionise teaching in many ways, but nothing can replace the personal interaction of a student and teacher and nothing can replace the recognition of the individual and their dignity.
We are in an age of information overload. Catholic schools must be promoting human experience and understanding. It is only in that way that students can be encouraged to develop an emotional and spiritual relationship with Christ. Education needs to be more than just an experience, it must also have meaning.
Teachers are called to do more than just convey information to passive students. Catholic Education must aspire to teach love for wisdom and instil in students a habit to desire learning and seek wisdom.
- Be joyful witnesses of the Gospel.
Pope Francis has been an excellent proponent of this. It is the essence of his first encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”. A student’s experience of faith needs to be a positive one and schools and educators should always return to the core message ‘Jesus Christ loves you and gave His life to save you.’
Faith, and in particular the Church, are not going to be attractive to students if they find that the people in it are morally outraged, full of self-righteousness, judgmental, fearful and closed up on themselves. Educators need to resist anger and the language of moral decline. As Pope Francis repeatedly tells us, the joy of the Gospel is for everyone and no one is excluded.
In our hectic and often stressful world we may need to encourage ourselves and students to change the way we see things. A simple exercise which teachers can use amongst themselves or in the classroom with students, as a way of changing negative attitudes, is to either write down or share with each other three things they are thankful for each day for 20 days. Giving thanks for what is around us inspires us to joy.
- Know your stuff. Live the liturgical year.
You cannot lead students to know God if you do not work towards knowing God yourself. One way is to live the liturgical year of the Church. That may mean reading the Gospel lectionary each day or studying the saints calendar. There are many apps designed for this.
The Church liturgical calendar is designed to give us an intensive study of the Bible. It is repeated each liturgical cycle so that each time we revisit it we can gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the scripture. Week by week, the liturgy unravels the mystery of God’s plan. Through the liturgical year we learn about the mysteries of our Lord’s birth, his baptism, his teachings, his death, resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the awaiting of his second coming.
- Pray with students.
Lead students in prayer and pray in front of them. Teach them how to pray and how to put all their joys, sorrows and anxieties before God.
Read scripture together. Even short verses. The Gospel is like good bread that nourishes the heart.
- Sacramentalise the school and classrooms.
Make use of the visual in schools. Let students see icons, candles, statues, holy water and rosaries. Beauty has its home in God. Accessorise God. Base the visuals in your school on the liturgical school year. Have an altar which includes reminders of the liturgical season. In newsletters and communications talk about what season the Church is in and the relevant Gospel theme for the upcoming Sunday in preparation for Mass.
- Share personal experiences of faith with students.
Personal testimonies, experiences and stories can open up opportunities and gateways to speak with students about faith.
- Form the moral conscience of your students in truth and freedom.
I think this one is hugely important and one that is sometimes misunderstood.
In all facets of student’s education, you are preparing them for the world. Students need to understand that in whatever they do they can choose to love God and their neighbour and enrich society. Students need to be reminded, beyond preparation for a successful trade or profession, their destiny is holiness and to become saints.
Schools and educators need to look beyond education as merely an instrument for the acquisition of ‘information’.
St John Chrysostom puts it beautifully:
“Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing…Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge.” Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 21
Christ and scripture need to be at the center of Catholic Schools. Schools and educators need to instill a passion for wisdom and a thirst for truth. You need to gently challenge students to think and not tell them how to think.
From the beginning we learn from the story of Adam and Eve, that God in his divine glory gave them choice. In his infinite love, God has given us all the freedom to choose him. In the parable of the prodigal son we see that freedom includes the possibility of the son leaving home, going to a distant country and losing everything. We also need to give students the freedom to choose God, even if they challenge their faith. It is through our love that we will draw them to Christ.
Theresa Simon is a Maronite Catholic and former secondary school teacher. This paper was presented at a spirituality day at The Maronite College of the Holy Family. Together with two other women she runs an independent social media initiative @livingmaronite.